What matters most to you? What makes your day? What makes you happiest?
What do you live for?
These are questions we ought to ask ourselves more often. And they are questions that may have different answers at different ages.
When we have asked the question “What do you live for?” to people in their 20s, the answers often sound a little like video games: “adventure,” “winning,” “achieving,” “getting to the next level.”
Sometimes the answers of 30- and 40-year-olds to the same question are not that much different: “a bigger house,” “more prestige and recognition,” “the corner office.”
But the answers to the same question get very different when we are talking to 60- or 70-year-olds. What they say they are living for takes on a whole different tone: “Relationships,” “my children,” “my grandchildren,” “my husband and our marriage,” “my legacy.”
Here is the bottom line: The tendency when we are younger is to measure ourselves by our achievements and accomplishments. And our inclination as we get older is to measure our lives and our happiness more by our relationships.
The simple fact is this, the younger answers are a little shallow and a lot less likely to bring real, lasting fulfillment and happiness. The older answers are deeper and more in line with what ultimately matters most.
Lately, we have been starting many of our presentations and lectures by asking that one telling question: “What do you live for?”
The longer you think about it, the more telling the question (and your answers) become. Where are you spending your energy and your time? What are your real priorities? What matters in the long run? Are you short-changing the relationships in your life that are actually vastly more important and more relevant to your happiness than any achievement could ever be?
The problem we are finding with most of our audiences is that most people don’t ask themselves these questions often enough. We just tend to go on from day to day, pursuing the things everyone else is pursuing and measuring ourselves by the standards of appearance and of materialistic competition.
For what they are worth, here are a couple of conclusions we have drawn recently from our experiences with these questions and with the responses of different aged audiences:
Whether we realize it or not, relationships are always more important than accomplishments.
People always matter more than things.
No matter how young we are, we all need to think “older” and start answering the question “What am I living for?” the way 60- and 70-year-olds do.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com.